Heritage, Volume 14, Number 2, Spring 1996 Page: 18
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WEATHERFORD WOMAN RESCUES LOST CEMETERIES
By Alice Henry
"The Cemetery Lady," Mary E.
Kemp, credits her husband with
the idea that catapulted this greatgrandmother
to the forefront of a
campaign to rescue abandoned
cemeteries in Parker County. She
tells the story this way.
"It was in 1986 when we read in
the newspaper that the Parker
County commissioners were thinking
about selling the property
known as The County Poor Farm.
My husband knew that an old cemetery
was on that property because
he had stumbled upon it while
hunting. He remarked that it would
be a shame to lose such an important
piece of history. He told me,
'If we're ever going to save those
graves, we'd better do it now.'
Since I was active on the county historical
commission, he challenged me to do
something about it."
What she did was convince the commissioners'
court that this area should
be saved; then she donned her
sunbonnet, boots, and gloves, picked up
her grubbing hoe, and led a handful of
volunteers to clean up the old cemetery.
"We did it in one day," she proclaims
with a grin. Although there was only
one marker left standing, her team kept
exploring until they found 141 graves.
When the county officials realized how
historic the site actually was, they didn't
sell the land. In fact, they fenced the
cemetery, built a road to it, and passed a
resolution to dedicate the plot to remain
in the public domain. A Texas historic
plaque now marks the site.
From these first efforts came the formation
of the Abandoned Cemetery
Association, a committee under the
Parker County Historical Commission.
This busy group has restored 40 cemeteries
and actively maintains most of
these sites. Kemp estimates that approximately
200 people have participated in
cleaning and maintaining the various
areas during the past decade. The reason
most of these cemeteries have been "lost"
is because they are on private land, often
difficult to access, she explains. Many were
family burial plots and when the land was
sold, new owners were not aware of the
significance of the graves. After an area is
cleared, Kemp says, that is only the beginning.
"It has to be mowed regularly or it will
be overgrown again," she said. Monuments
usually have to be repaired and fences
erected as well.
More than $100,000 has been raised
since 1986 to maintain, repair, and fence
these rescued plots of history, and as the
reputation of the Abandoned Cemetery
Association spreads, more landowners are
asking for help to restore and preserve
burial plots on their property. Four cemetery
restorations were added to the list in
1995, plus the maintenance of one other.
As a result of her outstanding efforts, Kemp
has become known as the "Cemetery Lady"
from the halls of the Capitol in Austin to as
far away as England.
Since the ACA is not funded by state or
local government, where does the money
come from? "Donations and fundraisers,"
Kemp says. The ACA committee members
hold auctions and sell a variety of items to
benefit the Association. Their latest success
is a custom-designed collector's afghan
showing historic Parker County sites, which
Mary and V. Kemp sit in front of the
1900-era corn crib on their ranch south
brought in more than $ 11,000 last
One ongoing fundraising
project is the antique boutique
Kemp has set up in part of the
family business located on the historic
Weatherford Square. Dedicating
a portion of floor space at
Texas Butane to donated antiques,
she rivals the local antique malls
with sales of everything from dolls
to doughboards. All proceeds go
to the Abandoned Cemetery Association.
Her success is bolstered
by local citizens who donate items
for her store.
Though the Abandoned Cemetery
Association is her first love, it is not her
only preservation effort. Each spring when
wildflowers are at their peak, Kemp holds
a public open house at an 1856 log cabin
located on her family's 400 acres in southern
Parker County. Since 1982 when she
dedicated a Texas Historical Marker at
the cabin, she estimates that 18,000
people have toured the property to admire
the flowers and get a glimpse of the
A long-time member of the Parker
County Historical Commission, Kemp
assisted in publishing a local history book
in 1980 and served as co-editor of a
second in 1984. She serves on the Historical
Marker Committee and has personally
researched, prepared the applications,
and been granted 14 markers for
Parker County sites. Her historical expertise
landed her a leadership role on
the courthouse restoration committee,
where she continues to raise funds on
that ongoing project.
Infused with energy and dedication,
this gray-haired dynamo is like a committee
of one working diligently to uncover
the history of the county that lies
buried in small family plots and forgotten
sites hidden beneath the underbrush.
18 HERITAGE ,SPRING 1996
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 2, Spring 1996, periodical, Spring 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45406/m1/18/: accessed April 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.